FORT POLK, La. — Crewmembers assigned to the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk’s 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment, are required to annually prove their expertise in firing an M240H machine gun on an aerial gunnery range.On June 22, the eight UH-60 helicopter crew chiefs of Alpha Company, 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg “Tomahawks” accomplished their qualification on Peason Ridge’s pop-up target range, the first time the crew had seen that particular range.Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Richardson, a UH-60 pilot with A Co, 1st Bn, 5th Avn, said the annual qualification ensures the M240H is used proficiently and crew chiefs are familiar with and understand their mission should they have to engage targets outside of the aircraft.“In addition to our eight crew chiefs, we take crew chiefs from other companies and give them an opportunity to qualify,” Richardson said. “Although we are a TDA unit we need to maintain our proficiency.”A TDA unit is a non-doctrinal unit that performs a specific mission for which there is no appropriate table of organization and equipment. In the case of 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg, the unit’s task is to support rotational units at JRTC and the JRTC commander. As a TDA unit, 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg would not be called on for a combat deployment.Richardson said the Peason Ridge pop-up target range is different than the range the unit has used in the past, so it’s exciting.“We have an area where we can practice masking, which is going below tree level so we can rise up, identify enemy targets, then drop back below the tree line and report locations without the enemy seeing us. We can also rise up, fire and then drop back below tree level before the enemy can engage us,” he said. “From there, we’ll go up and down lanes that have friendly and enemy targets that will pop up. The friendlies have yellow heads and the enemies are all green. It’s more exciting because of the pop-up targets and friendlies we can identify instead of just shooting at a pile of old tanks. It’s more realistic.”The rules of engagement require the gunners to hit an enemy target five times for a kill but the friendlies only once.“If you hit a friendly target or have a negligent discharge it disqualifies you,” he said.As the UH-60s navigate the lanes, Richardson said pilots will call out enemy and friendly targets, and the crew chiefs ensure positive identification so correct targets are engaged.“We do both day and night iterations,” he said. “At night we use night vision goggles and lasers and fly slower due to safety consideration. Lasers are connected to the front of the 240s and give the gunners an idea of where it is pointing.”Richardson said the gunnery is a culmination of training leading up to the week-long event.“Before the gunnery, we have the electronic shooting range and familiarization with the 240 — being able to take it apart and attend classes about it,” he said. “We then use a simulator, followed by ground shooting of the 240 to make sure we all know how to shoot it before firing it in the aircraft.”Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Knapp, A Co, 1st Bn, 5th Avn Reg, said he hopes to make gunnery week about more than shooting an M240H.“I want to use the range as our METL (Mission Essential Task List) assessment,” he said. “Our goal is to add more tasks to the gunnery week.”Knapp said there are normally six to eight non-rated crewmembers that must qualify during gunnery week. If the unit only conducts gunnery qualification, he said it’s a waste of resources.“What I want to be able to do is go out and shoot the familiarization fire during the week,” he said. “In the past, that has eaten up a separate day, a month or so before gunnery week, so we want to condense it all into one big battle assessment; how functional are we?”Knapp said he wants to add sling loading, troop movements and other training during gunnery week.“The next one will be second quarter of fiscal year 2021,” he said. “That will allow us a four-month window, so we can schedule the training now. We can then plan training for the entire quarter leading up to the range. We want to do more than just flying to fly. We want to fly to actually produce a working mission set.”Knapp said he’s spoken with representatives of the 509th Infantry Regiment and 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, about joining together for training.“They are interested in doing sergeant’s time training in conjunction with our training, such as sling loading,” he said. “They can do their training on the ground, while our guys can do their training in the aircraft. I can evaluate our crew members doing sling loads while the other units are doing their ground training.”Knapp said that plays into annual requirements his Soldiers have.“Part of our annual requirements is to perform each task a certain number of times and annotate that,” he said. “Using the battalion fighter management program, we have the ability to annotate every time we do training. That means we’ve met our annual requirements. I see us doing a lot of training in the future.”